Policy J/AW: Affordable workspace and creative industries

DRAFT version for various committee meetings.

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What will this policy do?

This policy will set out how affordable workspace, including for creative businesses, should be provided across Greater Cambridge.

Proposed policy direction

It is proposed to require affordable workspace to be delivered as a proportion of larger commercial developments. Affordable workspace can be defined as workspace that has a rental value below the market rate (generally, 80% of the market rate or less). If on-site provision is not possible, require financial contributions for equivalent off-site provision.

To help new communities develop, major mixed use developments should incorporate an element of affordable workspace. They should also include provision for creative and artists’ workspace, rehearsal and performance space and makerspace.

Why is this policy needed?

Our Employment Land Review presents evidence that there is a shortage of affordable workspace for start-up businesses and SMEs across Greater Cambridge. The issue is more apparent and increases further towards Cambridge city centre.

Common issues include tenants being priced out of the market, long waiting lists for new space and high rents. As a result, it reports, the workspace market in Greater Cambridge can be difficult for micro-enterprises and SME’s to enter.

Providing spaces at reduced rents on easy-in and on easy-out terms helps to encourage individuals to take the leap into starting a new business or growing their homebased business. Support from business support providers in these shared spaces can help entrepreneurs to develop sustainable companies.

Affordable workspaces have an important role in helping to address social inclusion. Individuals from more deprived communities will have more barriers to starting up including access to finance and the ability to absorb risk. Access to affordable flexible spaces can help to overcome these issues.

In several areas of London, the provision of affordable workspaces is built into planning policy as a means of addressing shortages in premises for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises. Different boroughs can have different thresholds, levels and timescales for delivery. As an example, in Richmond upon Thames, where over 1,000 m2 of office space proposed, at least 10% of this space must be affordable. ‘Affordable’ is defined as rent and service charges at less that 80% of market value. Under the policy the workspace must be maintained at an affordable level for a minimum of ten years.

A next step at draft plan, if this approach is taken forward, would be to identify scale of development it should apply to and the proportion that should be required.

As well as ensuring a sufficient supply of affordable business space, affordable workspaces can support sectors that have cultural or social value such as artists, designer-makers, charities, voluntary and community organisations and social enterprises for which low-cost space can be important.

For Greater Cambridge, the creative sector has been identified as a sector that has a significant economic role in the area and a wider role in supporting wider community well-being, for example through place-making. However, it has also been identified as having a particular need for affordable space.

Consultants looking at the supply and demand of creative workspace in Greater Cambridge have highlighted Cambridge’s unique character as a historic university town with very few post-industrial buildings and high demand on its current stock of commercial space. This effectively means that there are few affordable spaces for artists and creatives to occupy and practice in.

Their surveys of creative businesses have identified a shortage of secure, flexible and affordable workspaces leading people to work from home or use a range of other spaces that are less suitable.

What consultation have we done on this issue?

In our First Conversation consultation we asked you a range of questions focused on the local economy and your preferences for the type and location of business and industrial space in Greater Cambridge.

We received several responses that raised the need for new start-up, incubator and small business and workshop space in the area including flexible workspace and co-working hubs with shared facilities. It was felt important that these spaces could adapt to changing circumstances. Short-term premises for pop-ups were also highlighted as an option.

The need for small, affordable start-up units in new developments was raised including space for lower skilled businesses and to protect existing businesses. Affordability, it was suggested, could come through subsidised or low rents.

There was support for the creation of creative jobs in arts and culture and the need for art galleries and youthful cultural spaces was recognised.

The suggested locations for these spaces were not restricted to a particular area. Villages, new settlements, expanding housing and employment areas, urban areas and rural areas were all proposed.

What alternatives did we consider?

No Policy - This is not the preferred approach. The market has not provided a sufficient supply of small workspaces to meet the demand for such space in Greater Cambridge. Without a policy, outside the life science sector, this under provision is likely to continue.

Supporting evidence studies and topic papers

Existing policies in adopted 2018 Local Plans

None

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